Back in the early 1980s, when Carolina was working to lure Judith Wegner here as an assistant law professor, she and former Chancellor Bill Aycock ’37 sat down one day for lunch. She remembers being impressed with his commitment to all the things that matter to her about what a university should be. Fine teaching, for one, and — tellingly — a sense of commitment to the University’s public dimension. She wondered, coming into that interview, what it was like for women on the faculty at Chapel Hill and was pleased to discover Aycock was out campaigning for the ERA.
“He was so committed and so beloved as a teacher,” she recalled. “And Ken Broun was a very fine dean. I had a sense of possibilities here, and fair-minded people.”
She turned down the attentions of other universities and came to Carolina, and now, we have a lot for which to thank Bill Aycock. Not only did Judith become a first-rate legal scholar and teacher, but through her work on myriad committees, as an imaginative law school dean and as a phenomenally productive chair of the faculty, she has made the University an even better and fairer place. And throughout her years here, Judith has worked to heighten the University’s engagement with public service, its commitment to meeting the needs of the state.
“She believes deeply in the public mission of the University,” says Anne Whisnant ’91 (MA, ’97 PhD) of the office of faculty governance. “She has a strong sense of justice and a sense that things can be better than they are. She’s an incredible dynamo about almost anything she takes on.”
Whatever she takes on, Judith immerses herself in it. She reads her way through piles of information, finds reams of supporting documents and sends them all to her colleagues — generally via e-mail in the middle of the night.
“She has an amazing intellect and an ability to synthesize great amounts of material,” says Jane Brown, who as a former faculty chair herself knows a daunting stack of documents when she sees one. “But then she goes on to think about recommendations. Her reports are amazing, so comprehensive, and they always end with recommendations about what can be done.”
Not only can Judith lead a roomful of people through complex issues and the sometimes delicate task of sharing their viewpoints, she sometimes does it all with a constantly moving needle in her hand. Her needlepoint, which to her is meditative, an aid to concentration and a playful sort of feminist statement, results in beautiful pieces she gives as gifts.
Judith helped create the University’s Public Service Roundtable and helped establish the UNC Center for Public Service. She chaired the Committee on the Status of Women — putting women’s issues on the map at UNC — and co-chaired Chancellor Paul Hardin’s Committee on Community and Diversity. During her tenure as dean she diversified the law school’s faculty and student body. As chair of the faculty, Judith addressed critical faculty retention and graduate student issues and ensured that logo licensing revenues would support merit-based academic scholarships. In the words of one colleague, the faculty chair is “a part-time position in which she worked overtime.”
Judith has always served the community beyond the campus walls as well, putting in a term as a Carrboro alderman before she took on the deanship, and working today on the Orange County Planning Board. She helped start the African Law Initiative, which facilitates exchange among 16 American law schools and eight law schools in Africa, and she has served as president of the Association of American Law Schools. Currently, as a delegate to the Faculty Assembly, she’s serving the entire UNC System.
Her hard work, compassion and dedication to fairness have brought Judith numerous honors, from the Mary Turner Lane Award, which recognizes contributions to women on campus; to the Order of the Golden Fleece; the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award; and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the state’s highest recognitions.
Judith was the first former dean in more than 40 years to be elected faculty chair. She was nominated for this Faculty Service Award by three previous honorees. As Jane Brown said, “Carolina is so lucky that Judith Wegner has been here for almost three decades. Almost anywhere you look on campus, she’s had a hand in making things work better.”
The Faculty Service Award is presented by the GAA Board of Directors.